8. The Visit (2015)
Much like Wide Awake, M. Night Shyamalan’s 2015 low budget horror The Visit was distinctly average and almost entirely forgettable, but given the run of notably poor movies the director had released (in a row) ahead of writing and directing the film, “distinctly average” was a welcomed change in direction for the screenwriter-director’s quickly plummeting career.
Having learned how to write marketable material between his 1998 theatrical debut and this 2015 release, The Visit ranks above Wide Awake because it ticks more boxes, offering a satisfying albeit far from spectacular watch that includes a number of solid thrills and all the elements of a small budget modern horror/thriller that you’d expect – and just as the genre was beginning to truly take off once again.
As a director of suspense, Shyamalan had always excelled, and in writing for a genre that was reliant upon suspense to survive, it was as if he forced himself into a corner from which he had to rely upon the very traits that made him famous. The result was a far more positive one than his poorly judged sci-fi fare, and perhaps signalled the beginning of a miniature Shyamaissance.
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7. Old (2021)
Having regained favour (and importantly patience) in his run between The Visit and Glass (2015-2019), M. Night Shyamalan once again developed an original mind-bending screenplay, this time promising the existential dread of people rapidly aged by a mysterious beach.
The result was a mix of the best and worst of Shyamalan’s creativity, some quality psychological and bodily nightmare fuel proving to be excellent and disturbing in equal measure while cheesy and unrealistic dialogue restricted Old from ever fully getting under your skin.
In this instance, the lofty concept was actually shackled by Shyamalan’s screenwriting signature, the twist, and ensured that not only were some truly astonishing ideas never truly realised, but that audiences were always kept at an arm’s length, awaiting the inevitable instead of being swept away by the action (quite the irony for a film with a message of embracing your present instead of fearing your future).
There is a lot to analyse here, whether it be that the film is an allegory for the end of cinema or a metaphor for the human experience of the pandemic we’ve each lived through, and as with the filmmaker’s great work Old always maintains attention, but it’s not Shyamalan at his most relentless genius or his most tuned out, it’s just another entry many people will forget with time.
6. The Village (2004)
The level of acting talent that signed on to work on The Village is proof as to how much faith Hollywood had in M. Night Shyamalan going into his 2004 release. A cast including Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt, Michael Pitt, Brendan Gleeson, Judy Greer and Jesse Eisenberg was headlined by the director’s first collaboration with would-be Jurassic World star and Lady in the Water lead Bryce Dallas Howard, Shyamalan ensuring that every frame was filled with the kind of gravitas his work until this point was very much deserving of.
Having earned himself a reputation as “the guy who writes twists”, anticipation for the likely twist in The Village was as much a part of the appeal of the film as the stellar ensemble, and this is where things began to head south for Shyamalan.
The screenwriter-director’s twist in The Village was divisive to say the least, and a less than great critical response to the film ensured that Shyamalan began to be tagged with the phrase “one trick pony” for the first time.
While elements of The Village were spectacular and it was clear that Shyamalan was still enjoying his work at this stage (which certainly wasn’t the case for the decade to follow), the moniker of being a successor to the likes of Steven Spielberg began to wear thin, this film acting as a blow that would unsteady the Shyamalan ship heading into the much more problematic Lady in the Water (our number 9) and would ultimately act as the catalyst for the derailing of his career.